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Time, money and stimulus run short for KC’s Green Impact Zone

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Time and money is running out on Kansas City’s Green Impact Zone, a noble project that began three years ago with the promise of millions in federal stimulus money.

Federal grants are beginning to run out, leaving neighborhood activists and city officials scrambling to keep key aspects of the project going. Meanwhile, city officials say that after this budget year ends April 30, local tax dollars will no longer go to pay the salaries and expenses of the Green Impact Zone staff.

First proposed by U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), the Green Impact Zone project is said to put people and dollars to work to strengthen neighborhoods, create jobs and improve energy efficiency. The initiative includes housing rehab and weatherization programs, community policing and services, job training and placement, and health and wellness programs, all built around a comprehensive neighborhood outreach program and using sustainability as a catalyst for this transformation.

The Green Impact Zone itself is a 150-square-block area surrounding the inner-core of section of the between Troost Avenue and Prospect Avenue in Kansas City, Mo. The area, roughly from 39th to 51st streets, has experienced severe abandonment and economic decline.

Approximately 25% of the Zone’s properties are vacant lots and another one-sixth of the buildings are vacant. Unemployment in Kansas City is now 11.7% citywide and estimated to be as much as 50% in parts of the Zone. Fewer than half the homes of the Zone are owner-occupied. Almost 20% of all mortgages were delinquent over the last two years. Median home prices for the area have fallen below $30,000.

So far the Zone benefited from a final tally of upward of $178 million in public and private investment in the past three years. Back in 2009, when Rep. Cleaver first proposed sinking all $200 million of the federal stimulus monies earmarked for Kansas City into the neighborhood, he reasoned that spending all the money in economically challenged part of the city could have the most.

According to a recent article “Green Impact Zone finds itself in a gray area” (Dec. 12) by Mike Hendricks in the Kansas City Star, the Green Impact Zone’s shortcomings have been well documented. Stimulus projects in the Zone put a few hundred people to work rather than the 1,000 jobs Cleaver hoped they would create.

Further, said the Star article, the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) was slow in weatherizing people’s homes in the zone and was disqualified from the program after spending just over half of the $4.5 million set aside for that purpose. However, Kansas City councilwoman Cindy Circo, one of the Zone’s biggest supporters, said in the article that she gives the Green Impact Zone a grade of “A” overall for creating positive momentum.

More recently (Dec. 17), Kansas City Star columnist Lewis Diuguid wrote about attending the premiere of a new locally produced movie documentary about the Green Impact Zone, We Are Superman. Director Kevin Bryce said the documentary has been entered in 20 film festivals in the United States and Canada.

The packed audience saw a 50-minute version of We Are Superman, along with a 20-minute film on Operation Breakthrough and the work it does at 31st Street and Troost Avenue for children and families. The full-length version of the movie, which focuses on Mayor Sly James, Green Impact Zone executive director Anita Maltbia and many other local activists and officials will be in theaters in the spring.

According to Diuguid’s column, the documentary shows the problems that have troubled Troost Avenue for decades as Kansas City’s racial dividing line, and it clearly lets the audience know that Troost Avenue is improving column. Further, says Diuguid, stimulus funding is helping to make housing, businesses, jobs, and living in neighborhoods along Troost better.

“Troost to me is a great place,” said Bryce, who lives near the avenue. “I couldn’t help but document that side of the story.”

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